My shiny little online spot to help y'all keep track of me while I galavant around London.

Sunday, December 05, 2004


On Saturday, I did my Jane Austen pilgramige to Bath, a city west of London. It's long been a tourist attraction because it has what we'd call hot springs, and rich people would travel to "take the waters" to improve their health. While there are areas people sit in, and walk around to get the benefits of the steam, the health benefits were purported to come from drinking the tepid stinky water--which I did--but we'll get to that.

Anyways. Jane--and yes, at this point, we're on a first name basis--mentions Bath in all six of her novels; two, Northanger Abbey and my favourite, Persuasion, are partially set there. Jane also lived in Bath off and on for several years, tho apparently she didn't much like it.

Traveling in England is easy to figure out; train and tube schedules are online, so you just type in where you're going, and they give you directions. Knowing I had to be at Paddington Station in the Northwest of London to catch the 10:15 to Bath, I left my flat at 9ish, to catch the 9:08 train from New Cross Station, which would take me into Cannon Street Station. Running late--big surprise--I would have missed that train, but it was also running late--which is also no big surprise--so I caught that train, but was still a few minutes behind.

I Get to Cannon Street train station, from where I need to catch the Central line tube to Paddington... but the tube station is closed. Closed. Apparently, it does that on weekends, which is news to me. So, I'm standing on the corner, starting at my tube map, trying to figure out where to run to, and looking up, realize I can see the Bank Tube station from where I stand. So, I run to it, and figure I can catch the Met line, and transfer to the Circle... but I arrive, and apparently the circle line does run from there, which is contrary to the information on my map. So, i follow the signs, and start walking... 12 minutes later, I find myself at an entirely different underground station, confused as hell. I walked underneath the city to a different station. Didn't know you could do that, either. But, here's the Circle line, and a train, so I jump on. I shouldn't have, because it was the wrong train, but I figure that out in time and get off, and get on the right train.

I finally arrive in Paddington station, around 10:10... which leaves me 5 minutes to buy a ticket, find my platform and get on the train to Bath. I run up to the ticket booth, wait impatiently for four minutes, throw down my money, grab my ticket, and make a mad dash to the platforms... only to discover I'm at the wrong I run back, around a coffee shop thing, and onto platform five, just as the station people are blowing their whistles that it's all clear to go. I leap through the doors, into the First Class section, and thank the lord for the divine intervention that somehow allowed me to make my train.

After walking through three empty first class carriages, I find the standard class, which actually has people in it, but isn't too busy, and get a window seat so I can check out the countryside. On this ride, there's much to see. We pass through Reading, which looks like a cool town, and the country is all misty and lush and green. Absolutely gorgeous. I was tempted to get off and just go ramble through the hills, down the stone-wall lined roads, and past the fields of sheep and cows. All this, only 20 minutes outside the city.

The trip to Bath--in case you've forgotten, that's where I was headed in all this rush--is about 1 hour 40 minutes, so lots of time for looking out the window, writing, and listening to people's conversations.

I arrive in Bath, ask directions to the Jane Austen Museum, and start walking. After a few minutes, I'm kind of vaguely confused if I should go straight or turn left; Bath is tiny, so it probably wouldn't have mattered much if I did get lost. Standing on a corner, I look up at a street sign, over to a directional sign, and then down one road, and up a next, before looking at my map again. Clearly, I look confused, and this short, old man with purple-tinged cheeks ask if I need help. I explain where I'm going, and he offers to walk me over. We get talking, and he's a war vet, who served with a group of Canadians in WW2. He's been to Canada, to Brandon, Manitoba, in fact, and is delighted to hear my Dad's from there. He shows me around town a bit, pointing out all the "silly tourist" things, lamenting the crowds and traffic, and generally being a wonderful person to talk to. He even recommended places to visit, including the Museum of Costume, which he said was "a favourite of the ladies, but even he liked it."

I was genuinely sad to see him go when we finally got to the Jane Austen museum, but excited to finally be at my target. I go in and pay for my ticket, and am told a talk is starting upstairs. I hurry up, and upon entering the room am handed a plastic cup of mulled wine, that's at first a bit nasty, but improves upon trying. The talk is more about background information than anything, and there is little I haven't heard before, but is a nice refresher.

From there, we all wander downstairs to the exhibit, which isn't great. There are a few interesting pieces of information about where she lived in Bath, but the whole exhibit is more about what Bath was like when she lived there, and the things she might have seen, than about the author. (I do think I'll need to make a trip to the museum at her house in Chawton when I get back here after Christmas.)

There gift shop wasn't half as impressive as I'd hoped, and I don't linger long, as I'm off to an Austen walking tour. I walk across town (like I said, it's small) to the meeting place, which is by the Abbey and the Roman Baths. Upon buying my ticket I learn I'm the only one for the tour so far... and it starts in two minutes. Shameful. I run and buy a sandwich, and when I return the little old lady running the tour has arrived. Her name is Maragret. She looks at the sub sandwich in my hands with some distaste, and announces she'll start explaining the area we're in while I enjoy my "snack." Whatever, I'm hungry.

Another lady shows up, so it's the three of us. Our first stop is to the pump rooms, which are maybe mentioned in Persuasion or Northanger Abbey, or maybe not--Margaret can't remember. She keeps asking us, throughout the tour, if we'd read the books recently, and I can tell from her commentary that she hasn't. I'm making her sound evil here, but she was nice enough, and knew a lot about Bath, but I'm not sure she was quite up to entertaining me, with my detailed background knowledge from school, and moreso, from Mary.

Anyway, in the pump rooms, for 50p, we got a glass of the stinky mineral water. They guy pouring it was in costume, and was telling us stories about how the baths used to be--hundred of years ago--a common place, and dead dogs used to be found in them. Not something to tell someone who's downing a glass of the stuff, but it was tasting nasty enough already. It wasn't terrible, but it was warm and a little sulphury. We saw part of the baths as well, but it cost 10£ to tour them, so I didn't bother.

We walked all over the city, with Margaret pointing to places some character might have lived in, had they actually existed, which was quite neat. We saw where Mrs Smith would have lived in Persuasion, and where Sir Walter's house was, as well as Milsom street, a posh shopping street Jane mentions often. We didn't really see any of the places Jane lived, as there were several, and all are privately owned. Don't really understand why that kept us from looking at the outside, but whatever. The whole time the other lady, from York, or something, kept saying amazingly silly things like, "ooh, this would be a lovely place to live. Is this neighbourhood considred desirable?" I wanted to smack her. They both kept carrying on that it was sad that a nice row of classic looking housing--where Lady Russel would have lived--was now being used as council housing, which is low-income subsidised housing here. Yeah, it sure sucks that poor people get houses (that, for the record, no one else wants to live in, because they're on a busy road) that have historical significance, even to such a small degree. Snobby country people.

Anyways, Margaret showed us a lot of neat spots in Bath, including curved rows of town houses built on a circle the same diameter as Stonehenge, which is vaguley nearby.

After our tour, I went back to the Assembly Rooms (another Jane location) where the Museum of Costume had a Jane Austen Film exhibit, which had dresses from all the important films. After that, I wandered around aimlessly for a while until it got dark, then headed back to the train station, where I nearly missed my train, as I was on the wrong platform. One of those days...

I only took pictures on the SLR, so none to put up yet. Bath is a very pretty city tho, so I did take a few...


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